Doin’ It for Charity (and P.R. and Gifts)
When Jamie Lee Curtis went to Sun Valley for an all-star gala on the ski resort’s 50th anniversary, she emphatically told organizer Marjoe Gortner: “I don’t do press and I don’t like Robin Leach.”
Gortner, the actor/former child evangelist, recalls he didn’t want to make waves. “So I told the press to leave her alone. I told photographer Peter Bosari not to take her picture. I told Leach to steer clear. By the second day, she felt so ostracized she came to me and said, ‘Robin’s not so bad. Maybe I should talk to him.’ From then on, she did all the interviews,” Gortner said.
Gortner is arranging two of these kinds of events a year. In October he participates in the opening of a new resort in Hawaii. The other will be in December, the 100th anniversary of the Banff Springs Hotel in British Columbia. Both are a part of the flourishing business of celebrity booking that has taken hold in Hollywood.
From the perspective of the event--oftentimes charity or sports--having a celebrity on hand makes for good promotion. The city or the real estate development where the event takes place also benefits from the favorable publicity, not to mention the commercial sponsors that financially back the event.
From the star’s view, a little public exposure for a good cause couldn’t hurt, either.
It was that way with “Dallas” star Larry Hagman, Gortner said. “If Hagman wants to come to an event but he’s in production on ‘Dallas,’ I go to the producer and point out that if he can rearrange Larry’s shooting schedule, he can go with me and be interviewed on rival network ABC’s ‘Good Morning, America.’ The producer appreciates that plug, the schedule is redone and everyone’s happy.”
Sixteen years ago, the Colgate Co. was sponsoring Dinah Shore’s television program and asked Shore, an avid tennis player, to head up a golf tournament.
“I don’t play golf,” Dinah protested.
“Learn,” they suggested.
She did and became such an enthusiastic golfer she gave up tennis. Colgate stayed with the tournament for 10 years, then Nabisco took over.
No one would be so crass as to mention how much money the pride of Tennessee receives for this annual tourney, but it’s a healthy sum. She earns it: She does all the publicity interviews connected with the tournament and presses hands with the clients and friends in the three weeks before tee-off.
Similarly, Jamie Farr (Klinger of “MASH”) got his own golf tournament in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio.
“The city wanted to do something for me, so they gave me the LPGA. I’m the only man to have one. It’s the Jamie Farr-Toledo Golf Classic. There are no corporate sponsors. It’s a big drawing card for the city. We have 50,000 people in the gallery.”
Beneficiaries are the Ronald MacDonald House and the Sunshine Children’s Home. It’s a natural tie-in for Farr, since he’s an avid golfer. He shoots around 90 with a 19 or 20 handicap.
“There are so many tournaments, you could play every weekend on the pro-amateur circuit,” he said recently.
Gortner agrees a star could go to a free event every week, and some want to. But there are only so many bona fide stars, and if they show up too often their luster gets a little tarnished for sponsors as well as the public, he said.
To some celebrities, the ultimate homage is an Academy Award. To others, it’s having a sports event bear their names.
Among those with a golf, tennis or ski tournament are the late Bing Crosby (who started it all in 1937), Andy Williams, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas, George (Goober) Lindsey, Pat Boone, Michael Landon, Dinah Shore (the lone woman), Carl Reiner, Chad Everett, John Denver, Chris Lemmon, Monty Hall, Trini Lopez, Rene Enriquez, Hal Linden, Clint Eastwood and Billy Barty.
How does it happen? Either the star has a pet charity for which he wants to help raise money, a corporate sponsor asks the star to participate or a charity seeks out the star to lend his name.
Because of that, a cottage industry dealing in celebrities is alive and thriving in Hollywood.
Besides Gortner, the three people whose Rolodexes whirl most in securing celebrities for events are Tommy Cook, David Mirisch and Rita Tateel, a newcomer to the work.
Cook International Prods. Inc. is headed by Tommy Cook, 58, a former child star. Discovered at 8 by radio genius Arch Oboler, he estimates he did 3,000 radio shows; he was radio’s Alexander on “Blondie” for 3 1/2 years, Junior on “The Life of Riley” for 4 1/2 years and the original “Little Beaver” on “Red Ryder.” His movies included “Battle Cry,” “The Vicious Years” and “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman.”
He started playing tennis when he was 12 and represented Southern California in the Junior Davis Cup competition. He won more than 100 tournaments.
After serving in the Marine Corps, Cook taught tennis to his Hollywood pals.
“I had a great celebrity clientele. Some of them asked me to put together a benefit for a charity. My first major production was the Motion Picture and Television Championship at La Costa in 1970. I produced and emceed it for the first two years. I went to Merv Adelson (then head honcho of the resort, now chairman of Lorimar Telepictures) and got 65 rooms for my celebrities. Nobody was paid then, or now. All expenses are covered and the players are treated like first-class royalty. They get gifts, tennis equipment and great media exposure. The charity receives the proceeds from the event, and I get paid by the sponsors, generally major corporations.”
He has done more than 150 events since the first La Costa event. Cook got Wendell Niles Jr. started in the tennis celebrity business. He learned well: Niles’ only tournament is the prestigious Monte Carlo, for the Princess Grace Foundation, which Cook works on too.
Among the names playing there this year: John Forsythe (on everyone’s list of favorites), Charlton Heston, Dolph Lundgren, Stefanie Powers, Joanna Kerns and Roger Moore. Last year Bill Cosby and Barbara Sinatra played.
In November, Cook will take seven top movie celebrities to Bombay, New Delhi and the Taj Mahal for a 12-day tennis event. He is retained by Indian movie and TV producers Vijay and Ashok Amritraj, who also play professional tennis. The monies will benefit the Mother Teresa Foundation and charities supported by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
He is also working with his friendly competitor, Gortner, on the opening of the $400-million Westin Kauai at Kauai Lagoons resort in October. Gortner’s company is producing the event, which includes tennis and golf tourneys and boat races. The hotel will supply rooms and meals, United Airlines provides transportation and United Cerebral Palsy will benefit.
The same names turn up on all the hunters’ preferred lists of tennis players: Forsythe, Heston, Cosby, Kirk Douglas and Dustin Hoffman are the superstars. The two most loved families-that-play-together belong to Lloyd Bridges and Dick Van Patten.
Cook adds, “Bernie Kopell is always in demand. Among the younger kids, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe and Michael J. Fox. The best player is Dabney Coleman, when his ankles aren’t bothering him. Ben Murphy and Robert Duvall are two of the best. Women: Elke Sommer and Cheryl Tiegs are great. Farrah Fawcett used to be pretty good--I took her all over the world. In her day, Dinah Shore was excellent.”
The 1973 Oscar-winning “Marjoe,” a documentary about Gortner, propelled him into show business and, later, the celebrity-booking industry.
“I’ve had a home in Sun Valley for the past six years,” he said. “Four years ago when the 50th anniversary of Sun Valley was coming up, I thought something should be done to make the public aware of it. The resort was built for the rich and famous, and stars weren’t coming anymore. I went to the Sun Valley Co. and suggested I bring up some celebrity friends. They gave me the rooms, I went to Western Airlines and they gave me plane tickets. We brought up 20 celebrities, and a lot of press, and everyone had a great time.
“Paul Newman was our chairperson; Susan Sullivan, Wayne Rogers and Brooke Shields were there. Brooke bought a house there as a result. We raised $75,000 for the Scott Newman Foundation.”
Gortner had a new business, but he would only do events for charities in which he believed, for top-flight sponsors like Rothschild Wines’ Mouton Cadet. No cigarettes, no beer companies . . . “nothing schlock,” in his words.
Next, Canadian Pacific Hotels and the minister of tourism asked him to put Calgary on the map before the Winter Olympics. He had a contract with the government of Alberta to produce pre-Games events and two kickoff events for the opening of the facilities, a celebrity ski invitational and the premiere kickoff of all the facilities. He raised almost $300,000 for the United States and Canadian ski teams in the two years.
Celebrities who helped were Richard Dean Anderson, Ed Begley Jr., Rita Coolidge, Dan Fogelberg, Eva Gabor, Mitch Gaylord, Fawn Hall, Mary Hart, Bruce Jenner, Margot Kidder, Mary Lou Retton, Cliff Robertson and others. Every celebrity was given about $2,000 worth of gear: a $900 ski suit, brand-new skis, poles, glasses, gloves. They were outfitted head to toe, as were the guests they brought with them. It’s a given that every celebrity can bring a date, mate or friend.
“They would not object when I’d say, ‘Please wear the Bogner turtleneck on Friday for photos.’ They take everything home with them when it’s over,” Gortner said.
Gortner recalls that William Shatner had never participated in an event before, until Gortner asked him. Despite Shatner’s reputation for sometimes being difficult, Gortner told him how many interviews he had to do, how long he had to stay at the cocktail party and that he had to attend the dinner Saturday night. “It all went on schedule as I’d promised him, and he was wonderful, because he knew I’d keep my word.
“I do auctions too. That’s another source of income for the charity. I raised $188,000 in a half-hour for SHARE (the biggest annual charity fund-raiser in Hollywood). I auction items no one can buy. Susan Sullivan gives you a day on the ‘Falcon Crest’ set with her, and lunch with the cast. Robin Leach gives you your own episode on ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’ I sold that for $10,000. Altogether, I guess I’ve raised around $6 million to $7 million with the auctions.”
David Mirisch is the son and nephew of the famed Mirisch Bros. film producers. A former publicist, he’s been in the event business 15 years. He is more diversified than his colleagues, doing tennis, golf, skiing, softball, basketball and getting celebrities to go down water slides in theme parks, all for sweet charity.
“I do about 50 events a year, I work with 1,800 celebrities. Because I was a press agent, when other publicists sign new clients, I’m one of the first people they call, to tell me what the new client’s interests are, so I can invite them to events.”
Mirisch works only with charities: the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis, United Cerebral Palsy, the Special Olympics, the Kidney Foundation, and he is currently setting up a celebrity horseback riding event at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center for The Brass Ring--children with multiple sclerosis who can’t walk are in total command on a horse. They will benefit from this fund-raiser next spring.
He finds celebrities want to give their time for worthwhile organizations. Often they have a personal interest.
“Pat and Shirley Boone gladly hosted an event for SIDS recently, because Shirley’s sister lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If they could help other parents in tragedy, they wanted to,” he says.
Mirisch, whose fees average $12,500 for big promotions, says the most-in-demand stars are those on current TV series. When he invited young Kirk Cameron to Tucson for the Michael Landon tennis tournament, it was necessary for the teen throb to have two security guards with him the entire time.
He “casts” his celebrities according to the event. He is working on a party for the Kidney Foundation at a Florida resort whose guests are mostly retired folk.
“They wouldn’t know who Kirk Cameron is, but they’ll bethrilled to see Anne Jeffries, Marie Windsor and Lloyd Bridges.”
Mirisch also knows how to handle stars. He knows, for example that Charlton Heston would agree to be picked up by limousine to play in the Tracy Austin tennis tournament but would stay only to play his exhibition game.
“If I’d said I needed him from 9 to 6, he wouldn’t do it. It’s too much: Actors’ time schedules are too tight.”
Mirisch has noted that major movie stars, for the most part, rarely if ever participate in these functions because of their stature and busy schedules. One never sees a Meryl Streep or Sally Fields doing this, but fans are just as happy to see John Forsythe and Lloyd Bridges, he says.
It’s anyone’s guess how much money has been raised for charities in the years since stars have been lending their names and personas for these occasions. Mirisch’s figures show he’s responsible for more than $5 million raised in 300 events. In its 29 years, Bob Hope’s Desert Classic, the oldest celebrity oriented charity event, has raised $17 million for the Eisenhower Medical Center and 90 other charities.
Rita Tateel is the “rookie” among the celebrity fund-raisers. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she was born on a chicken ranch in Fontana and remembers sitting on a curb in Hollywood with her parents watching the annual Christmas parade. She worked for the Jewish Federation for 17 years and learned to know and love working with celebrities. Her company is the Celebrity Source.
“I have access to over 3,000 celebrities and a computer listing everything about them from hobbies to home towns to T-shirt sizes to every conceivable thing in which they might be interested. When they complete filling out my five-page, super-confidential questionnaire, there are no secrets,” she says with a laugh.
Two of her prime clients are the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the City of Los Angeles Marathon. This Thanksgiving will mark her third parade. It ranks second in size in the nation, after the Rose Parade, and attracts the most stars, about 100. It’s syndicated to more than 140 cities in this country, 86 nations, so the parade provides major exposure--and thus is attractive--to any celebrity.
Even so, when arranging the Hollywood parade she has found that “there are certain celebrities who simply do not do parades. They just don’t like being in a car and waving to the crowds . . . they feel self-conscious about it.” Another problem is the holiday itself. In many cases stars go home for Thanksgiving--"and Los Angeles isn’t always home,” she said.
Among Tateel’s coups: taking Emma Samms, Joan Collins, Susan Howard and Gordon Thomson to London in 1986 for Prince Charles’ Youth Business Trust. “This charity helps disadvantaged youths start their own business. It wasn’t until the stars actually arrived at Grosvenor House Hotel that the organizers really believed it possible to have (so many) American stars under one roof,” she recalls.
Again, the stars agreed with alacrity to the trip. But who wouldn’t when it meant a free stopover in New York for shopping, and top accommodations everywhere?
Tateel says she often gets calls from stars who say, “I want to go back to my hometown for the weekend. Can you arrange an event for me?”
But of course.
To pull it off, she’ll work with chambers of commerce and other civic groups. Generally, the star gets a free trip home, a parade and is lionized for the weekend.
Tateel is closemouthed about her fees, but she does admit being paid $1,000 per star name by Pepsi-Cola just for getting photo releases to use stars’ pictures in a calendar in a joint venture with the California PTA. The stars who signed: Jason Bateman, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Melissa Gilbert, Edward James Olmos, the pop group Menudo, Kim Fields and the Hiroshima band.
Often stars are enlisted to dress up local galas such as the ballet or a theater opening. Again, in exchange for a limousine and good seats, they’ll glitter.
Most-wanted stars among Tateel’s clients include Michael Jackson, George Michael, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Paul Hogan, Sylvester Stallone, Patrick Swayze, Bill Cosby, Tony Danza, Michael Landon, Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Jay Leno.
The least-requested? Tiny Tim, Herve Villechaize, Jim and Tammy Bakker and Mark Spitz.